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written by Caroline Ambrus and Robert Verdon

Arthur and Martha were born with two distinct sexes occupying the same body. They grew up to become a person who seemed to suffer a multiple personality disorder, but not quite, as each personality knew all about the other, There were no secrets between them. They had to find ways of coping with the complications of their precarious existance, like how to survive with the least amout of effort possible. When they faced inevitable unemployment, Martha applies for Newstart Allowance and Arthur applies for a Disability Pension. Things become complicated when Centrelink discovers that one of its customers is apparently double dipping. So Arthur and Martha had to find creative ways to continue riding high on the hog. This is a hilarious, ideologically unsound satire which sends up the Centrelink relics from the last century, so carefully preserved up to the present time. It is lavishly illustrated with cartoons and drawings from a bygone era.

irrePRESSible Press, 2005, ISBN-0-9587979-7-8

Chapter one

Her name, sadly, was Martha Arthur Windsor-Smith. Martha's parents had a sense of humour which peaked with the birth of their baby, who came equipped with a full set of ambiguous sexual organs. The parents had been split on whether they wanted a son or a daughter and, as things turned out, they conceived a baby that was both a son and a daughter.
       When the baby was born, her father inspected its appendage and said, "What a beautiful boy. We'll call him Arthur." The baby's mother took a closer look and said, "What do you mean, a beautiful boy. She's a girl and we'll call her Martha, after my mother." The debate raged for some time. As the issue was never resolved, they further blighted the life of their child by registering her / him twice, once as a boy named Arthur Windsor Smith and once as a girl named Martha Arthur, in two separate cities at that.
      Arthur's Dad tried to bring up his son to be what he regarded as a real man. Whenever he caught him decked out in girl's clothes, he'd say, "You look like a bloody poofter — here, shove this on!" He'd push onto him a pair of daggy 'dacks', a grubby football club t-shirt and oversized hob-nailed boots that made him look like a relic of the Hitler Youth.
      Martha's mother tried to bring up her daughter to be a lady worthy of a Princess Diana, and whenever she appeared in Arthur's clothing, Mum would promptly tear off the offending garments and deck her out in a frilly pink dress, hair ribbons to match and black patent leather button-up shoes. When Dad saw her he'd turn pale and puke.
      So, soon Martha and Arthur had become two separate personalities living in one intersexed body like psychological Siamese twins. Some days she was Martha and other days he was Arthur, while on still other days they were both. Each personality knew (only too well) about the other, and they had a friendship of sorts, though there were occasions when tempers flared.
      "It's my turn to choose what to wear."
      "I'm not swanning about in that. I'll look like a wooss."
Oddly enough, perhaps, both personalities were artistic. They both loved to write and paint. But while Martha would write love poems and illustrate them with watercolours of flowers and birds, Arthur in his macho and anarchistic way would fill his poetry with outrage. And his illustrations were muddy impressionistic gestures of despair at living in a world where all that was valued was money.
      What poofy crap," sneered Arthur of her work, and flew at the cartridge paper in a waterspout of paint.
       Young Martha, by contrast, was a 'good' girl, a model of fashion and propriety. She tried to please everybody and 'just wanted to be loved'. On the other hand, young Arthur was a self-centred egotist, and inevitably became an unkempt, angry young man (though that was quite fashionable too at the time). He deplored her habit of watching Days of Our Lives. Before that, at the age of four, Martha crafted a globe of the world out of clay. She was pretty proud of it, until Arthur came along and kicked it rather hard against a brick wall. Martha was terribly upset and her mother couldn't understand why her little girl/boy was capable of such sporadic violent attacks.
      At length, Martha's parents decided that their daughter at least should have a profession. They persuaded her that very few people in Australia managed to make a paying career in the arts and that she should study to become a librarian. Arthur smouldered in resentment at this turn of events, as he wanted to become a full-time artist with his own garret to starve in. But Martha had him under firm control most of the time, especially in bread and butter matters. Martha, dutiful daughter and fan of Thomas Keneally, trained as a teacher / librarian and added art to her string of qualifications. Whereas Arthur, in those far-off days of plenty, became the artist, and when he didn't get his own way over issues involving his right to make art he would protest obscenely at times designed to maximise Martha's embarrassment.
      In these early days before Western bureaucracies had ditched the notion of public service and fine-tuned their sacking procedures, it was fairly easy for a multiple personality to establish separate lives. Martha had her bank account and so did Arthur. Martha had her job and so did Arthur (more or less). They both had separate tax file and medicare numbers. In every respect but one, Arthur and Martha were two different individuals. So began Martha's doomed career. Jobs were easy to get in the halcyon days of her professional life, when the economy was younger and more buoyant. Forgotten were her poetry and paints. But when she discovered that women in the public service were paid at a rate of three fifths of the male wage, Martha promptly became Arthur. Yet even then, all was not that well in the human assemblage of Arthur and Martha. Arthur was contemptuous of Martha's demure respectability and she had to spend a lot of time trying to coax him to drop his angst and co-operate. Finally he agreed that Martha had made a sensible decision in investing a few years in the bureaucratic backwaters so they could retire early to become famous artists, they wished.
      So Arthur Windsor-Smith (though devoid of a hairbun) became the librarian and Martha worked in the evenings as a casual, but not overly casual, waitress. In the early days of Arthur's career, he washed his shirts and even wore a tie (once). He showered and borrowed Martha's deodorant stick so that he would smell nice. He participated in all the boring staff meetings that of course were held in silence with all the exchanges being made in dumbshow until his Auslan manual was dog-eared and he got fined $94.30 for forgetting to return it. But occasionally in the evenings, Arthur was cast aside and Martha would emerge, dressed in stilettoes with a Marie Antoinette bouffant hairdo and scarlet lipstick. Martha then would go out and enjoy her evening at the local disco. Then during the day, Arthur catalogued with a reluctant reverence for dotting the i's and crossing the t's which was the bread and butter of cataloguers in those days. But he wanted jam and he was stuck in a stagnant pool along with a half mad, male librarian, several years his senior, who had no formal library studies of any kind and who was a solid, middle aged drinker who suffered from a daily hangover.
      Both Arthur and Martha became disenchanted with the limitations of Arthur's boring library job. Martha said with exasperation one day, "Why don't you try teaching art in high schools. You're the artistic one."
      Arthur threw up his paint-spattered hands. "That's a bloody calling! It's a booby trap sprung with good pay and lots of holidays. Furthermore," he ranted on, "I am sick and tired of washing shirts and wearing ties, so you can become the art teacher." So she did.
      At first Martha found the work to be tolerable. But the more she became exposed to the trappings of creating art, the more she wanted to go back to making her own. She came home one day really wrung out with the futility of it all.
      "I really didn't care if the kids are potential Picassos or monkeys making marks," she cried. Much to Arthur's glee she finally chose to quit, cashing in her modest superannuation cheque to put a deposit on a tin shed — an ex-ice cream factory whose proprietor had gone out of business when he succumbed to an artistic bent. The big old shed, in a down-market suburb, was cheap at the time, so the mortgage was not hugely large. She had bought the worst house in the best street and determined (against Arthur's fulminations) that a mortgage was a necessary evil.
      "You're crazy! We're on our uppers as it is."
      "The bank manager is a very nice man," she said. "He has every confidence in our ability to repay the loan and he wears a tie every day."
      "Ha! Twenty years of debt to those shysters. Hang the lot." He fell into brooding silence.
      In fact she took out a thirty year mortgage which, at the age of fifty plus, was living dangerously indeed. She also bought some watercolour paints and some good cartridge paper. Then she put the rest in the bank as a hedge against hard times. Casting off his anxiety temporarily, Arthur grew ecstatic. He went shopping for the most expensive paints and plenty of canvas and began sloshing paint about with the ferocity of Jackson Pollock, determined to have his first exhibition before he was too old to be considered an angry young man. But it didn't take Martha and Arthur long to spend the rest of their money. Being doubly broke, Arthur began to drink and Martha applied to do relief teaching, a well paid, walk-in, walk-out, no-responsibility job, just the ticket for a budding, if ageing artist.
      In those days of plenty, relief teachers were few and far between. There were many times she did not answer the phone or made feeble excuses to the staff officers, begging to make up their quota of teachers for the day. She could pick and choose when to work and when to paint, or write, as she had also taken up the pen (in those pre-microcomputer times). She was able to make enough money to afford to disappear for weeks at a time. When what Arthur tiresomely called the 'dosh' ran out, she was able to work until the coffers were topped up. Arthur for the first time in his life was happy. While Martha was relief teaching, a boring job at the best of times, he occupied their subconscious, cooking up ideas for his future work.
      Then came the late eighties and early nineties of the last century of the Second Millennium. Computers had become a reality for people like Arthur and Martha. Both were quick to see the potential of word processing, so they went shopping and bought a second-hand Osborne portable brown case and learnt Bill Gates's keyboard-driven Dos language ('Vas ist Dos?' was the first question Arthur asked). He then rip-van-winkled his way through several years, writing his life's work, a novel of impressive if daunting proportions, with many quotes from Burns, Brecht and Heine. The words flowed and then the rewriting and then the editing … and then the inevitable disappointment.
      Martha also was happy. She'd embarked on a project of painting watercolours of tropical birds accompanied by appropriate avian verses. By a miracle the money held out. Arthur published his novel himself and sales were brisk for the first few months. He became known around town as a budding 'youngish' writer and he was invited to all sorts of prestigious literary events. But all too soon, the sales began to dwindle. Everybody around the place who wanted to buy his book had done so. Frustrated, he wanted to travel, to promote his work abroad.
      He cried to Martha, "I really don't want to be a big fish in a little pond, let alone a little fish in a big one — or a fish at all for that matter. I just have to travel! How can I get Literature Board grants when I have such a miserable track record? The only authors they respect are Les Murray and Bryce Courtney and that's because they're packaged and puffed so well. And I need an agent."
      But Martha, who hated travel, poured cold water over his plans. Arthur licked his wounded ego. Martha snapped, "You'll never be rich and famous, or if you do get famous you smoke and drink even more and end up spending all your money on expensive clinics."
      They both stayed home and became even more broke. He painted huge canvasses filled with his ageing angry-young-man expressionistic dollops of turgid paint. Meanwhile Martha's tropical birds were doing fairly well and she sold a modest few. Around them, society was being 'modernised', which to Arthur meant leaping back into the nineteenth century. Eventually their bank account was cleaned out (especially when the fees for small accounts kicked in) and Martha was faced with the prospect of resuming relief teaching. She tried to resurrect her old contacts in the system, but she found that they'd all left for greener pastures. She left her name with a few nearby schools and waited for the phone to ring. No calls, not even after they paid the bill. She cast her net wider and contacted the staff officers of more distant educational establishments. No calls. By now she was beginning to panic. Here she was, a 52 year old, bisexual (this could be problematic), cross-dresser (in at least two directions), with a multiple personality, too old for gainful employment and too young for ungainful senility.
      She sat and studied her finances and hoped that she could ensure some sort of cash flow before the next payment on their thirty year mortgage was due. The bank, heady with its latest superprofits, demonstrated a quite remarkable degree of optimism in her longevity by giving her such an interminable mortgage at her mature age. She hoped she could pay it out before she shuffled off this mortal coil (although this was possibly fatuous since there was no one to bequeath it to). So she discussed the matter with Arthur.
      She presented him with three options, get a job ("no, not as a charismatic leader") or apply for the dole. Martha's third option by now was suicide, but Arthur concluded that it was too final for his liking and, in this at least, he had the final say. Actually Martha was the one suffering from depression, as she felt that she had failed in her efforts to keep them both in the manner to which they had become unaccustomed. He told Martha, "Don't even think of it and if you try anything funny, I'll soon stop you."
      While Arthur hid every razor blade in the house, Martha started to study the Saturday jobs pages of the local newspapers. Arthur sneered, "Don't bother, can't you see that there are no decent jobs for a geriatric professional like you."
      When a job failed to eventuate, in spite of Martha's best efforts, she had to conclude that she'd missed out. Most of her old friends were the original pillars underpinning the bureaucracy, doing their time, their greatest ambition being to collect their super. She discovered then that while her back was turned they had taken computers to the next level, replacing people like herself and Arthur. So newly-proletarianised Martha came to the workforce late and ill-equipped, her main disability being a curriculum vitae which featured years of introspective, uncompetitive and unprofitable activity like 'researching a book, writing a book, publishing a book, selling a book', interspersed with 'private studio practice' and combined with 'worked as a relief teacher or librarian for six months'. In these early days of the 21st century, such a track record guaranteed that the only job available to her or Arthur would be the most low-grade and as Martha later found out, she was not qualified even for this.
      One day Martha rang the old Templine and asked what was the procedure for re-registering as one of their clients. The man at the other end of the phone, after recovering from a paroxysm of mirth, said, "We are not taking on any more new clients, our books are full and we already have 2500 people on our waiting lists." The last time Martha approached Templine, some years before, she was immediately offered a job. Not just any old job, but a well-paid position in the 'public' service. She now demanded, "So what is the reason for this state of affairs?"
      "Well," he replied, "since the new government with its strong commitment to enhancing International Competitiveness has been downsizing and outsourcing, and many jobs in the public service have been shifted to the private sector, while many hitherto areas of duplication have been rationalised, so redundant jobs have been terminated." He recited this triumphant litany in a cultured, slightly British accent modelled after Tony Blair's. He was obviously a well-practised professional used to using terms such as 'value chains' and the like, and Arthur (rising from her rather Freudian subconscious) felt a mischievous urge to pierce the armour of his public service complacency.
      Our anarchist snarled in his broad Australian nasal twang, "You really mean, matey, that since you people elected the new enlightened, socially responsible, visionary Liberal Party, jobs have gone down the gurgler and people like me have been thrown on the scrap heap and do you know I have three degrees. How many do you have, arsehole?", and he hung up, not giving the (possibly startled) bureaucrat a chance to answer, "Well sorry lady, or is it sir? I have four, plus a PhD in astrophysics."
      Martha then rang up one of the private employment agencies (rather than being self-reliant and starting one of her own) and enquired about which area of the workforce had the job vacancies. The woman replied in a well-modulated tone, "Well we have quite a number of vacancies in the Infotech area. Do you have any experience?"
      "What's Infotech?" she asked.
      The other replied smoothly and politely, "if you don't know the answer to that then obviously you don't have the required experience. But for your information it involves specialist areas within computer technology." The work 'computer' rang a few bells. Martha thought she'd take a chance on ending up with egg, or worse, on her face, yet again. So she spoke quickly, so as not to bore the woman with her personal details, "I am computer literate. My speciality is computer graphics and desktop publishing." She heard Arthur groaning deep inside but ignored him.
      The woman replied, "I dabble in that myself in my spare time," and guffawed. Later Martha was to realise that so many people owned computers with basic image manipulation and layout programs that everybody was now a desktop publisher. Her confidence in herself and her hopes for becoming employed reached new lows. She went out to pay the phone bill, forgetting that she had paid it the week before. "I must get rid of those reminders," she told herself when there was a credit on the next bill.
      When she came back, the thing rang and she hoped for a brief insane moment that it would be a relief teaching assignment. Anybody who has to earn a living going in to do battle with hordes of obnoxious adolescents has to be insane. The caller from the Department of Re-education — undoubtedly reading from a piece of paper or a screen — explained to her. "Your outstanding pay claim could not be processed because Fred is away, and Heather, who is replacing him, has been taken to hospital suffering from overwork. When Heather returns, then your claim will be attended to ."
      She sighed. Another money tree stripped bare by the cold winds of economic winter and the vagaries of the bureaucracy, so she turned her attention to reading the dole application form which she felt by now was an appropriate, if not competitive, way to spend the day. Then there was another phone call. It was a friend, who told Martha about a relief library job and advised her to put in an application. Martha was so appalled by the probing, impertinent questions in the dole form that she decided that any job was better than prostituting her privacy for a few shekels. So with heightened hopes she told Arthur, "make an appointment, you're the librarian after all." Arthur was suddenly hopeful of getting a job, even if it was in a library. He fronted up for the job interview the next day in a clean shirt and a new tie (pity he forgot the trousers and instead fronted up in Martha's skirt).
       He clutched his worn leather handbag in both hands, gritted his teeth and fielded a barrage of totally irrelevant questions. Then he presented his genteel, but hopelessly in-adequate curriculum vitae to the librarian. At the end of the interview she told him that there were three other applicants for the contract. He then realised that he would not get the position. With his luck they were probably the Holy Trinity. He cursed the world and Martha for stupidly investing half the afternoon and a few gallons of precious petrol on yet another fruitless quest for a menial, short term, thankless, last-hired-first-fired excuse of a job.
      He told Martha, "It doesn't seem to matter how articulate I am at these interviews or how much I know, I am always rejected and even laughed at times. Perhaps I might have a chance at getting a job if you got a face lift and got your teeth capped and whitened. Get a make over, woman! You look about as attractive as John Howard. You might as well apply for the dole"
      So Martha read the application for the dole and went to bed to nurse a headache which had gathered speed during the day. The next morning she awoke, clear-headed and with a new spring in her step. Her trip to the dole office, though, was postponed. The public servants were on strike against what they saw as an unreasonable and unwaranted erosion of their job opportunities due to down-sizing and outsourcing in the mis-named service.




written by Caroline Ambrus


Life is full of disasters. The only smart thing to do with a disaster is to turn it into an opportunity. Many a fulfilling career path has had its genesis in a disaster. When the Liberals won the election it was a disaster. When they announced their massive crackdown on social security benefits, it was a disaster. When they brought in the dole diary, the disaster scenario escalated into the catastrophic. In my efforts to evolve this catastrophe into a career path, I turned to my many friends who were on the dole and asked them to consider writing up their dole diaries for publication. I had no takers. So I had no choice but to put my other work aside and do it myself. I hope this dole diary doesn?t turn into a career path. I could find better things to do than castigate the government on their depressing policies.

Postscript: Today, in the crappy, covid ridden year of 2022 welfare policies has reached new lows with the same old crappy Liberal government. All that has changed is that the politicians faces have become uglier and their greed insurmountable. But i'm on an age pension so at least for the time being oldies like me are left alone to garner our pitance to support Woolworths and the other unworthy purveyors of crappy food..

irrePRESSible Press, 1997, ISBN-0-9586896=2-8


Given that this publication was written in a diary format, I tended to wander from one subject to another according to the drift of political rhetoric over the airwaves and how I felt about it. While the juggernaut of the welfare system grinds on and bureaucrats do their thing in that sanitized vacuum known as the public service, people like me who live in the real world are affected. This diary is my way of dealing with the random, arbitrary pressures generated by this system. My case is probably fairly typical of the many others who are struggling to survive in this post-industrial, computerised, jobless society of the late 20th century. Obviously, I speak for myself. I hope that my words will strike an accord with fellow sufferers and may serve to inform the bureaucrats of the human cost of their policy machinations which are really just an exercise in crowd control.
       When I commenced this diary, I was dimly aware that things had reached a new low but I did not understand why or by what perilous path we had reached this culdersac. I started it off with the bliss of ignorance, thinking that things might not be as bad as my rather pessimistic nature tends to view them. As my diary proceeded, I began to realise that my gloom by comparison to the reality of unemployment; the moribund economy; the rapaciousness of large corporations and the antics of the new government, was positively optimistic.
      In the opening days of my diary, I focused on my own position and tried to find my way through what I perceived were the problems at that time. But as the diary progressed, I realised that my perceptions of the problem were largely uninformed and were the result of media hype and what appeared to be bureaucratic confusion. During this period I came to realise that the Department of Social Security was not supplying updated, accurate information to its recipients, particularly in such matters essential for negotiating the intracacies of the system. Consequently, many have been caught in traps, loaded and sprung by a combination of bureaucratic confusion, ignorance, ideologically-driven bloody-mindedness and inertia.
      As the diary progressed, I found myself digging deeper and deeper for the facts, which are recounted herein along with my irreverent, irrepressible questions, queries and comments. As this diary goes to press, I find that I, amongst many others, am vulnerable to the threat of being breached by the Department of Social Security, which means losing your benefits. To survive I, and the rest of the welfare dependant population, have to learn to kow-tow to the bureaucrats in tune with the arbitrary grinding of their welfare machine.
      The process of writing this diary reaffirmed my realisation that in this society nothing can be taken for granted by anybody. There does not exist in Australia any inherent human or social or legal or constitutional right that a person can be assured of having enough to eat, somewhere safe to sleep at night, something productive to do in her or his waking hours and the dignity of feeling that he or she has a place in the social order. Our present socio/economic malaise and our collective angst about the future are an indictment of the Social Security system and the politicians, both Labour and Liberal, the former having legislated a raft of mean measures against the unemployed and the latter for enacting these measures. Things have to change for the better and this surely is one of the challenges of our generation.